A Thankless Career - Because of recent news and my frequent visits through the security checkpoint, I have come to lack confidence in TSA employees.

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A Thankless Career

I travel a lot, which means I pass through airport security at least five or six times a month. I’m overjoyed when I get picked as TSA Pre-check, and don’t have to take my shoes off. Because of recent news and my frequent visits through the security checkpoint, I have come to lack confidence in TSA employees.

I’m sure there are TSA agents that take the mission of security seriously; others are there just for a paycheck. It is not unlike every other office in the country, but in this case it is right in front of the public eye and it is the difference between a safe flight and your worst nightmare.

TSA does some good. For instance, agents stopped twice as many guns at the Norfolk International Airport checkpoints in 2015 than the two previous years combined. Last year, 16 firearms were detected. Why are people trying to sneak guns on board an airplane?

It’s not that firearms are not permitted, but they certainly can’t be taken in carry-on baggage without proper precautions. There are rules to bringing a weapon on a flight. Most weapons can go in checked bags if unloaded, properly packed and declared to the airline. If you are interested, you can call your airline before arriving at the airport to check out their policy.

Earlier this year, a Logan County, W.V., man was cited on state weapons charges as he was stopped by TSA officials at the Yeager Airport. The man had a .38 caliber semi-automatic handgun in his carry-on baggage. To top it off, it was loaded with five bullets.

The man said he forgot he had the gun in his possession. Checkpoint X-rays don’t lie; there it was. Seriously, how do you forget that you have a loaded gun in the carry-on baggage?

I was recently stopped at security because I had an unopened bottle of water. I, like the man in West Virginia, didn’t know it was there. It was only a water bottle, but it was still a little embarrassing. Having a handgun, that is a completely different story. It is a passenger’s responsibility for all contents in their bags.

For all their hard work, and keeping an airport secure, TSA does some pretty stupid things. Not long ago, a 10-year-old North Carolina girl received a patdown after it was discovered she had left a Capri Sun juice pouch in her bag. TSA agents pulled the youngster out of line and performed what I thought was a pretty aggressive pat down.

“I’m a very big proponent of security, and if they were patting me down, no problem, but this was a 10-year-old girl,” said the child’s father, Kevin Payne. “The whole system seems to not work the way it should be working.”

I’ve had a pat down before, in fact, several. I don’t like it, but at least I understand the necessity of this protocol. But, all that for a 10-year-old girl with a juice pouch?

Quick to respond, TSA said they followed agency guidelines, which screening procedures allow for a pat down of a child under certain circumstances. All approved procedures were clearly followed by letter of the law. However, the child’s father filmed the incident and posted the footage on YouTube. I watched the film frontwards, backwards, inside and out. The young lady was clearly mortified and in distress by the pat down. Looking at the film, I thought it was a little bit invasive.

Why? The footage clearly shows a female agent calmly frisking the little girl. However, there is something wrong with seeing a 10-year-old being made to hold her arms out to her side. What I thought was an heinous act, was the agent’s efforts to frisk the young lady’s breasts and other private areas.

As the father rewatched the video, he said that it “makes me sick to my stomach.” Clearly, this experience was uncomfortable for the girl, who held a blank stare on her face through the entire event. Even though a parent was present through the entire process, and it was done by a female officer, it was just completely wrong.

This isn’t TSA’s first clash with frisking a child. A TSA agent in New Orleans patted down a 6-year-old girl in 2011. Things were supposed to change after that, and in fact, changes were announced last year that screening child passengers would change. Clearly, someone in North Carolina didn’t get the memo.

Arina P Habich / Shutterstock.com

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Ralph C. Jensen is the Publisher of Security Today magazine.


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